I took my first metalsmithing classes around 2006 at the Southwest School of Art in San Antonio, Texas. Those classes were a wonderful opportunity to meet so many inspiring and talented artists among my classmates and teachers. One of those teachers, who became a very important influence in my journey as a jeweler and metal clay artist, was the chair of the metals department, Claire Holliday.
It was Claire who first introduced me to working with metal clay. She knew I would love this new material and that my ideas would flourish by using it. It took me more than a few classes with her to really understand the potential of metal clay, but Claire was always there motivating me to keep working with it and discover all the wonderful possibilities metal clay offered.
From the beginning, my cultural heritage from Mexico has inspired the designs I create. At first, I was hesitant about my work because I noticed that the work of all my classmates, who had been making jewelry for more than 10 years already, had a very different aesthetic than mine. I felt my work was totally different and out of place, and that maybe I needed to start designing pieces more like what I was seeing in my friends’ work or in books.
Well, let me tell you that did not work at all! I felt totally out of place. My creativity and motivation were gone. I just stopped making pieces or never finished them. Around this time, Claire noticed something was not right and asked me if I was feeling okay. I shared my doubts and hesitation about my work with her, and I still remember what she and my other friends told me.
They said that I was very fortunate to have found my own creative voice from the very beginning, and that some people take a little more time to find their own style. They told me to keep following my heart and passions, to stop comparing myself to others, and to embrace that every artist is unique in their own personal ways.
They were right! We all have a connection with something that inspires us to create. Since that day I have embraced making work inspired by my heritage.
What inspires you? I think everyone has an answer to that question. We all have something that makes us happy, something that we love that we are passionate about. It can be as simple as a beautiful flower, a walk in nature, or observing birds. It can be something more personal like your family, your cultural traditions and art, or the memories of your childhood.
My work is a reflection of myself and where I come from. Since the first day I started drawing ideas in my sketch book, I found inspiration from my memories of my childhood in Mexico. The smells, colors, food, music and rich traditional handcrafted art of Mexico are all represented in my work.
Because of my father’s job as a civil engineer, I grew up in many different states in my home country, and that exposed me to so many different traditions and folk art. At the time, I never thought all those memories and experiences would be a very important factor in what I would end up doing with my craft.
Coming to the United States as an immigrant has made me more aware of how much Mexico means to me, not just because I was born there but because Mexico will always be a part who I am and how I represent myself. I love the United States, but I will never forget Mexico.
I am proud to share my heritage through my work and to be able to tell a story with each piece I make. It is always a pleasure to talk with my collectors about what inspired me to make each piece and to see how my personal stories resonate with all of them. Metal clay allows me to tell my personal stories, such as losing my father and making a piece that was a tribute for him as we do in the Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico; when I had cancer, my pieces were full of symbolism of my journey and transformation during my recovery.
Do not be afraid to create pieces that have a story or inspiration in something that is close to your heart.
When you find and embrace a connection that inspires you to create, your ideas will be clearer and your creativity will have no limits. Challenge yourself to start creating something every day. It does not have to be a complex piece. Create with anything that you have at hand. I have made rings using food, natural plants, found objects, etc.
You will be surprised at how your creativity will start to flow when you do not put any limitations, expectations or requirements on yourself. Don’t overthink it, just create things you love.
Lorena Angulo is an adjunct faculty member at Southwest School of Art in the metals department, where she was first introduced to metal clay. Her work has been featured in several books, magazines, and publications, and countless online articles and industry websites. Her work has also been part of gallery exhibitions in the USA and Europe.
Lorena is one of the authors of Metal Clay in Color, and is the author of a book called Behind the Brooch published in May 2014 by Schiffer Publishing. Find her online at www.lorenaangulo.com, and on Facebook at @LorenaAnguloJewelry, and on Instagram at lorenaangulo.